Rakoff, at home in his kitchen. Photo by Melissa Hom for NYMag
Ever since the writer David Rakoff passed away last month from cancer I’ve been re-reading, or re-listening to, much of his work. Whatever I could get my hands on. In doing so, a curious side of him emerged that I had never been aware of. David, much like the rest of us, was quite into Japan. Aside from simply enjoying the delicacies – he was known to frequent Sakagura on 43rd street – David actually spent a bit of time in Japan when he was young.
In college David majored in Japanese because “it was the hardest language he could find.” After college he moved to Japan and worked as a translator. But he also had a stint at an advertising agency, and recounts his time there, and his negative capacity for identifying trends, in a conversation with Ira Glass:
Primarily, the office was an advertising agency. But what they were setting up was this thing for expatriates who were living in Tokyo at the time, or perhaps all of Japan. And it was like a network on a computer. And they would set up a newsletter on the network, and people could, quote, log on to the computer and talk to one another or do research.
I just looked around the room and I saw these computers, and could only think, what kind of loser would log onto a computer, talk to someone…
And almost the only moment of decisiveness in my entire adult life– I’ve certainly never equaled this– I went in the next morning and I quit. And all I could think was, sayonara, suckers. Good luck with your network.
David’s time in Japan was unfortunately cut short. He was there only a couple months when he got cancer for the first time. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He flies back to Canada where he was treated. But two decades later the cancer returned and killed him. I can’t help but wonder how his dry, neurotic and witty sense of humor would have evolved had he remained in Japan without disturbance.